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Great News from Springfield

“Last week we sent out a legislative report about some very good news from the Illinois state legislature in Springfield:It was an article by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy about Illinois’s new insurance parity law, SB 1707.Parity laws are designed to require insurance carriers to cover mental illnesses on the same basis as any other illnesses, and Illinois has had one for several years. But some insurance companies have found ways around it and have continued to deny or restrict coverage for people living with mental illnesses.

The new law is quite likely the strongest parity law in the country, and insurance carriers will find it difficult to get around its provisions.It requires both commercial insurers and Medicaid managed care organizations to show that they are in compliance with Illinois and US parity laws and to take concrete steps to demonstrate that they are notdiscriminating against people with mental health or addiction problems. NAMI and many other mental health advocacy groups have long worked to see that our parity laws are strengthened and SB 1707 is a big step in that direction.

There is other good news from Springfield as well. The first is the budget.For the first time in years Illinois has a balanced budget and it contains some increases for mental health.In particular it provides a 3% increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates for community mental health centers and continues a $27 million program to help community mental health centers pay for psychiatric services, a program which Governor Rauner had proposed eliminating. We are very pleased that he signed the budget the legislature passed.

The General Assembly passed several other laws that will also benefit people living with mental illnesses. Here are the highlights of a few of them:

  • Two of them dealt with access to medications, and both passed with large bipartisan majorities.
    • The first is HB4096. This bill requires the state to create a standard preferred drug list for Medicaid managed care organizations (MCOs). It allows the MCOs to offer more but not fewer drug choices.This will make choosing a managed care provider much easier for people on Medicaid, and will make working with Medicaid easier for healthcare providers as well.
    • The other is HB 4146. It will prevent insurance providers from changing their pharmaceutical benefits, including medications covered, during the insurance year.That way if people sign up for a particular insurance program based on the medications it covers, those medications will be covered for the entire year.
  • Another big win was SB2951 which creates a widespread series of Medicaid pilot programs to establish multi-disciplinary treatment teams which will employ evidence-based practices to provide early diagnosis and treatment for children and adolescents with first episode psychosis or other early onset mental illnesses and/or substance abuse problems.
  • You may have heard that some states are imposing work requirements for people on Medicaid. Research has shown measures like these to be counterproductive, especially for people living with mental illnesses. HB 4165, which passed on fairly partisan lines, will prevent the administration from imposing measures like these without legislative approval.
  • HB 4658 requires schools to provide mental health training to K-12 public school teachers and administrators to help them identify warning signs of mental illness and suicidal behavior in students.It passed both houses unanimously.
  • There is a great shortage of mental health professionals in Illinois, so advocates worked with the legislature to pass five bills which will put a dent that shortage.
  • For decades Illinois has had horrendous system which requires the parents of children with mental health problems, problems so serious that they require residential treatment, to give up custody of their children in order to get the residential placements the children need. Once the parents did that, DCFS would often charge the parents with child abandonment and label them as child abusers. SB2655, which also passed both houses unanimously, will provide additional funding for residential treatment for children with serious mental illnesses and reduce the likelihood of custody relinquishment.It will also provide measures to make any such custody relinquishment only temporary, and prevent DCFS from labeling the parents as child abusers.
  • Amd last, but not least, the budget that the General Assembly passed restores NAMI Illinois’s state funding. Before the Governor eliminated it in 2015, that state funding supplied about 40% of NAMI Illinois’s annual budget. We are glad the Governor agrees it is important to keep NAMI strong so it can continue to support families and individuals impacted by mental illness.

Any one of these bills would be an improvement in Illinois’s broken mental health system, but the fact that they all passed is remarkable.A great big NAMI thank you to everyone who helped make this happen –the many NAMI members who called or slipped in support of the bills, the tireless advocates from the Mental Health Summit, the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Advocates group, the Healthy Minds Healthy Lives Coalition, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, the Illinois Psychiatric Society, the Community Behavioral Healthcare Association, Thresholds and the many other professional organizations and mental health service providers that worked in support of these bills.

And of course a huge THANK YOU to the legislators who sponsored, worked for, and voted for these bills.

Again, thank you to Governor Rauner for signing the budget bill. Now we have to make sure he signs the other bills too.More advocacy may be needed.Stay tuned for further developments.”

– Hugh Brady, NAMI Illinois

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